When an artist's work resembles or seems to borrow from a predecessor, is the artist appropriating someone else's idea or is that artist evolving organically? It's a hot topic in the art world, and one that has come up with more regularity here and elsewhere. Many people, for example, are at odds with artist Matt Dibble's figurative work, and one reason might be the comparison with Picasso's drawings and paintings, such as the famous "Guernica." However, that's where the comparison stops and we engage in Puzzled Bipeds, Dibble's current show at Tregoning & Co.
Known mostly for his massive, gestured and layered abstract paintings, Dibble is making his fourth appearance at the gallery, and in this exhibition, owner Bill Tregoning aimed to focus on his figurative pieces.
Both sides of the gallery are being used to hold an impressive span of work dating from 2011 through 2017 in this prolific exhibition loaded with stitches, arches and twisted figures. The smaller drawings using India ink on woven paper are intense and introspective, but the real meat comes with the larger mixed media paintings that Dibble has steadily developed over the past 10 years.
In the back room we encounter "Plastic Saddle," which is quite similar to the exhibition title piece, "Puzzled Bipeds," mounted in the front gallery. Both are oil on canvas with twisted, stitched shapes resembling blood cells coursing through space beneath a microscope slide. The faded blue and red amplify this visual vibration and we kind of wish we had 3-D glasses.
"Venus, Amigo," created in 2011, is a highly organized painting with its mixed technique on canvas. Newspaper tabloids draw us in through the planes of salmon, cerulean blue and taupe. The lines of the newsprint from advertising to comic strips guide our eyes up and down, left and right, walking us through its layered labyrinth. We find ourselves wanting to tie in what lies beneath, but in this painting, as with many in the exhibition, Dibble uses newsprint as material rather than commentary.
As we move into the front gallery, "Illuminated Swimmer" marries classical Roman architecture with its shaped canvas, enamel and newsprint. In it, a contorted figure or figures dive throughout its copious strata. Vertigo almost sets in, as we cannot tell which end is up. By contrast, "Big Tart Potion" and "Coastal Tuesday," both of which are accompanied by their original drawings, wash over us with a sense of quietude and contemplation. There is grounding in these paintings; still, we are unsettled by their gaze.
In the painting titled "Modesty," Dibble shifts from newsprint to dress patterns. This 46-inch-by-50-inch painting gifts our eye with more arches and the muted hues of green, gray and blue. What appears to be "the beast with two heads" winks at itself or each other in amused play. With hand on waist, the entity straddles the landscape at a crossroad. There is a yin-yang quality sprouting from our illustrated friend that we can't quite put our finger on. Again, one wonders if the use of his media is purely practical or some sort of commentary. The argument is there and we keep returning to it.
Throughout the exhibition, although the line drawings and paintings are lovely and their austerity moving, his mixed media works knock us back with their high impact. Take into consideration, however, that it is the evolution of the smaller works to the larger, more involved paintings that make this exhibition exciting. We physically move back and forth as if we are in a boxing match, forced to reckon with the details as well as with the whole, just as the figures do within them.
In his statement, Dibble writes, "It's been said that even the angels ache for a body, sometimes. If I did figurative work, what would it look like? I asked myself this question often. I soon realized that figures were part of my work for many years, an ongoing series of pen and ink drawings. Projecting them on to larger canvases I was able to find many new compositions and entanglements. I'm often asked where the figures originate. There is an ache in my body, on the outside everything is calm the inside is much different." He goes on to add, "The postures here are not meant to be literal. I'm trying to create an impression, as simply as possible that describes my two natures. One grasping and one allowing. This is my situation, moment to moment, day to day and year to year. Where the figures in these paintings come from is a mystery..."
The dialogue that Dibble opens up for us with Puzzled Bipeds is as cerebral as it is aesthetic. It will be interesting to see how he further pursues this idea. In fact, in this exhibition, we turn into the puzzled bipeds trying to find our way through his two natures.